Firefighter occupational cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the fire service.
Between 2002 and 2019, 66% of the names of firefighters added to the IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Wall of Honor in Colorado Springs, CO, were of members who died from occupational cancer.
A number of published scientific studies suggest a link between firefighting and the development of cancer. One of the most telling are the results from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) 2010 multi-year study evaluating cancer in firefighters. The results found that mostly digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary cancers were found in firefighters. The study also identified that there was a two-fold excess of malignant mesothelioma, a very rare cancer. NIOSH identified the most common cancers diagnosed among firefighters, but there are additional cancers associated with firefighting.
The NIOSH study identified that firefighters have a 9% greater chance of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% greater chance of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population.
Cherry Hill Professional Firefighters have been busy at the local level, ensuring that our members take cancer prevention seriously. We've fought to get second sets of firefighting turnout gear issued to each member, including additional sets of hoods and gloves. Our members have gathered significant amounts of research on how to better clean and maintain our protective equipment, leading the CHFD to finally purchase gear washing and drying equipment and to develop new policies for inspecting and maintaining gear.
Significant legislative gains have been made at the state level through the work of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ), the state-level affiliate of the IAFF. After years of work by the PFANJ and its members, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the Thomas P. Canzanella Twenty First Century First Responders Protection Act into law in July 2019. Under previously existing law, first responders and firefighters had the burden of proving causation for their illnesses, which often required a significant expense of time and resources. This new law reforms New Jersey’s workers’ compensation law to create a rebuttable presumption of coverage for public safety workers for certain illnesses. For firefighters, those with seven or more years of service who suffer an injury, illness or death caused by certain types of medical conditions would not be required to demonstrate causation or exposure before receiving medical benefits and financial compensation.
The PFANJ also worked to get laws passed ensuring that all career firefighters in New Jersey have access to periodic cancer screening examinations. Firefighters are entitled to a cancer screening exam every three years whether they are enrolled in the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP), have a different health care plan through their employers, or receive health insurance coverage in any other manner.
The International Association of Fire Firefighters (IAFF) has long been a leading advocate for firefighter health issues - including cancer research and prevention. A significant amount of information related to firefighter cancer issues are available on the IAFF website: https://www.iaff.org/cancer/.